Posted with permission from Asharq Al-Awsat

Cairo – The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is working to address the risks of global food shortages, and is deeply involved in fighting hunger in the Middle East.

In this context, the organization has boosted its efforts in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region. As part of FAO’s vision to promote the plan of hunger eradication by 2030, Darine El-Khatib, FAO Special Goodwill ambassador for Zero Hunger for NENA, arrived in Cairo, kicking off a visit aimed at promoting a better understanding of FAO for a world without hunger and malnutrition.

FAO’s most recent estimates, reviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat, indicate that food security and nutrition levels in the region have sharply deteriorated over the last five years, undermining the steady improvements achieved before 2010.

Nearly 16.5 million persons in the region were hungry in 1990. By the end of 2015, the number of undernourished persons had doubled to around 33 million.

The social, economic, demographic and political changes that the region has undergone in the last three decades have greatly influenced the nature, scope and magnitude of health and nutrition problems.

Many NENA countries have appeared on lists of countries with the highest rates of obesity in the world. Many others are also among those countries with the highest incidence of stunting among children.

FAO works with its member countries to help improve and protect food systems, ensure better nutrition and healthy consumption and adapt agricultural practices to a changing climate in order to feed a growing world population.

As part of FAO’s efforts to address food risks, El-Khatib, and Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO’s assistant director general and regional representative, along with many officials from the organization will start their journey by visiting the “Improving Household Food and Nutrition Security in Egypt by Targeting Women and Youth” project in the region of Beni Suef, in order to review its results and achievements.

The project, which ran from December 2012 to July 2017 in five governorates of Upper Egypt, Asyut, Aswan, Beni Suef, Faiyum and Sohag, focuses on a number of key objectives: promotion of healthy and nutritious habits, finding new means to reach people through social media, social mobilization, direct communication with target groups, enhancement of household food production and income-generating activities, capacity-building to improve food security and nutrition.

According to FAO data, the project in Egypt has generally provided more food diversity and healthier diets for families and founded more food security. Women and youth in the five governorates are now more empowered after they acquired the knowledge and skills in areas of nutrition, agriculture, livestock and poultry, as well as knowledge of entrepreneurship and marketing. This has led to improved productivity and livelihoods.

According to data revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat, FAO explained that Egypt has succeeded in increasing food supplies at the national level, but the country has not achieved the same level of success in tackling malnutrition, which remains one of the major challenges that need to be addressed. In fact, Egypt faces a triple burden caused by malnutrition, which represents 35 percent of the health burden in children under five years of age, as well as two forms of malnutrition, namely, over-nourishment and undernourishment, with micronutrient deficiencies.

The organization said that Egypt is still among the countries FAO focuses on in its regional capacity-building initiatives to improve food security and nutrition; a strategic framework will be implemented to reduce food losses and food waste. ”

El-Khatib is a Lebanese journalist and activist who works for the elimination of hunger in NENA. In March 2017, she joined FAO in its efforts to help raise awareness of the growing difficulties in achieving food security for all in a region suffering from conflict, water scarcity and climate change.

Reaching a hunger-free world is one of the sustainable development’s goals developed and approved by the international community, and is at the heart of FAO’s work. FAO works closely with the government and regional partners to generate food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture in public policies and programs.